Monday, September 14, 2015

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 56

“Like a Refugee”

Experienced seafarers believe in O’Toole’s Corollary of Finagle’s Law…“The perversity of the universe tends towards the maximum.” Out on the open water, in a small boat, is a place where things can really go wrong fast… a chain reaction of little things that provoke bigger problems, and then other bad things.

One loose wire can lead to a helicopter rescue at sea… or worse.

Other than a lack of boating experience and inadequate bilge pumping capacity, the main reason for small boats sinking in open water is the relationship of wave size to boat size. The average 22-24’ small boat is vulnerable to the typical summer Atlantic chop… a two foot wave that is no threat to a 30’ boat. A 22’ boat hull holds 1,320 gallons of water. When they take on water, boats founder, and roll over.

People go into the water when the boat capsizes. People not wearing life jackets drown.

And now the world has seen the dead body of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi (above), washed up on a Turkish beach.

Why then did 350,000 people so far this year attempt the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing, a trip that has killed 2,498 migrants? In 2014, 3,419 of 207,000 people attempting it died on the same open sea crossing.

What is worse than a small boat trip with a 1-2% mortality rate?

With over 330,000 Syrians dead since 2011, and the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reporting 11 million internally displaced or fleeing the country (including >1 million in 2015), the region is facing a refugee crisis unparalleled since the end of World War II. Those not in foundering small boats are “living” in refugee camps where they lack food, health assistance, clothing, shelter and hygiene items.

Clean water and sanitation facilities are scarce.

Approximately half of those displaced are children.

Children in refugee camps are the most susceptible – to malnutrition, diarrheal diseases and dehydration. According to UNICEF, they are missing schooling, and vulnerable to sexual abuse & exploitation. Families fearful of their daughters being preyed upon are arranging marriage at ages as young as 13 years. The 2015 U.S. State Department report on human trafficking exposes the warring parties’ use of children as fighters and human shields.

Hundreds of relief agencies are providing assistance, but the need remains overwhelming. As recently noted by UNHCR high commissioner, António Guterres, “This worst humanitarian crisis of our era should be galvanizing a global outcry of support, but instead help is dwindling.

These agencies have no experience responding to something of this scale and scope.

So, countries have been called upon to help. Only thirty or so have responded so far.

Those usually known for having strong positions on humanitarian issues, like Canada and the U.S., have accepted 2,374 and 1,584 Syrian refugees to date, respectively. Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (above) recently wrote of his embarrassment in an op-ed piece. “When I am going around the world, they always ask me, ‘What happened to Canada?’” In an election season, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s and President Barack Obama’s governments were finally shamed into committing to bring 10,000 refugees into each country… but only over the next one to four years!

Germany, the historical cause of the last great refugee displacement, expects to take in 40,000 Syrian refugees this week alone.

Only when every country in the world accepts and assists refugees will too many stop living in conditions unfit for human beings. Only when this happens will thousands stop being tempted to undertake perilous-to-deadly border crossings.

What’s missing is true leadership. Sometimes, it seems that past leaders are all we have.

Until such leadership emerges, the unyielding rules of the open sea apply. Until that occurs, the water will continue to pour in.

In the Square, we know that “When civilization ends, it ends fast.”

Perversely, most countries of the world continue to fear the walking dead.

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